Wow, back then, they really would get big-name stars in epics they don't belong in just for the sake of having big-name stars, because, I've got to say, Paul Newman feels really miscast. Well, maybe Newman's not that bad of a miscast, because in a couple of films, he had quite the tan going on, so I suppose I could see him as an Egyptian or something. Oh wait, this isn't about the Egyptians driving out the Israelites, though I think that you can see my confusion, not just because this film is about a conflict within Israel, but because this film is just so blasted long that you'd think that it's the prequel to "The Ten Commandments". Man, the Israelites just can't catch a break, and more people need to know of their struggles, partially because we've still got people getting them confused for other Middle Eastern areas that start with an "I", and we need to get some clarification out there before someone ends up blowing up Israel, thinking that it's Iraq or something. Hey, as nutty as our government is, I wouldn't be all that surprised if they let someone who can't tell Israel apart from Iraq and doesn't know that we're done with the Iraq War get to the point of blowing up Israel, though I certainly hope that doesn't happen, because, again, Israel has enough problems, and Butch Cassidy isn't around anymore to try and help it. I can think of plenty of people who would say that this film isn't quite as exciting as you would expect when thinking of it as Butch Cassidy trying to save Jews in Israel, and to those people, I proclaim a firm disagreement, because "Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid" wasn't really all that exciting to begin with. In fact, this film really is more exciting than "Butch and Sundance", which really isn't saying a whole lot, but it still needs to be said so that more people will see this film, as it is worth the watch, though not as much as it should be, and for more than a few reasons.
The film explored quite a few sensibilities that were unique at the time, yet still made too many plummets into some of its time's more problematic sensibilities, and regardless of how much critics give passes to old films simply because they're old, there's plenty that you have to judge more on a general scale rather than a relative scale, though even on the relative scale, with all of its advanced touches, this film still succumbs to a few sensibilities that were already going moved foward by many films by 1960, boasting a few fine examples of common missteps at the time, or at least they seem that way, what with Otto Preminger's neglecting to put his entire heart in keeping this mammoth film going. Preminger's direction is often flat, picking up here and there, if not quite a few times, yet generally finding difficulty in taking off, going held down by a kind of resonance distance, spawned from a fairly workmanlike attitude that Preminger attempts to make up for with atmospheric overemphasis on the writing, which is good and all, and certainly helps this film in more than a few places, considering that Dalton Trumbo's screenplay isn't too shabby and that the story is strong, but considering the emotional distance in Preminger's direction, all he does in plenty of cases is drag the film's writing down to flat with him. With all the things I can and most certainly will compliment, if not praise about the screenplay that plays a huge part in making this film as good as it is, it plummets into more than a few cliches and lays only so many notes upon its characters and, to a certain degree, story, yet Preminger's overemphasis on the writing, both good and faulty, intensifies the film's conventionalism and layers limiting to a glaring extent that sticks and taints the less cliched and more layered areas of the film with the same, or at least similar kind of atmosphere, until a huge chunk of the film wears an aura of unsubtlety, made worse by quite a few side effects of Preminger's directorial distance that lean a bit more on cheesy. The dialogue and story structure writing slips up on a few occasions, yet is generally well-done and advanced past this film's unsubtlety and workmanlike atmospheric limpness, though between the two, Preminger tends to be more emphatic of the "advanced past this film's unsubtlety and workmanlike atmospheric limpness" part, in that he pronounces this film's atmospheric and written differences with a kind of distance that leaves quite a few pieces of dialogue and quite a bit of lively characterization and humanity to fall flat, sometimes to the point of feeling histrionic and consistently to the point of feeling a touch false and unsubtle. The film is too unsubtle for its own good, and while that's not enough to crush the film, or even drop it as low as underwhelming, it does do some damage here and there and pronounces many aspects that I'd imagine this film would prefer to keep somewhat obscured, and that, of course, includes the film's Zionist overtones, which bear down on the substance and end up almost simplifying its intentions. Now, with all of the film's faults, its missteps are hardly ceaseless, and are hardly even all that potent, yet they do leave their mark of the film and slow down its momentum a bit, something that you really can't afford to have happen when you're dealing a three-and-a-half epic that hardly deserves its runtime, which it earns through excess material that further slows down the film's impact and leaves it at a very real risk of collapsing as underwhelming. However, whether it be because of compensation or my rule that if a film better be good if it's three-and-a-half hours or so, the film hits quite a bit more than it misses, making it to genuinely good by not much more than a little bit more than a hair, but making it genuinely good nevertheless, thanks partially to the more livening strengths that Preminger can't distance this film from.
Okay, maybe Preminger doesn't completely let Ernest Gold's score work through without tainting it in a few spots, sometimes manipulating it in an unsubtle fashion to overemphasize atmosphere, and occasionally even overemphasizing how the score will get sweeping in a fashion more suited for a film about the actual Exodus, or something from around the Biblical era, yet on the whole, Gold manages to pull through and deliver on a score that may not be especially unique, but has plenty of clever and lively touches that juice the essence of this film and keep it from dulling out. Of course, the score isn't especially prevalent, and when it is use, it's only really all that boastful here and there, so this film needs to rely on more than just music to sustain entertainment value, and that's where, of all people director Otto Preminger comes in, because if he drenches this film in any kind of atmospheric energy, then its ambition, which may get to be overbearing, yet generally creates a kind of striking charm that livens up this film and forges a degree of intrigue that may be hardly consistent, as the film remains all too often disengaging, yet generally sustains entertainment value, as well as your investment, to a certain degree. What further secures your investment are the relatively rare, yet well welcomed occasions in which Preminger does, in fact, find that golden moment where he does land a reasonably firm grip on the situation and sparks resonance that does intensify the intrigue and catch your attention, when the film needs to most. More consistent in his delivery on execution of the worthy story is screenwriter Dalton Trumbo, even though efforts are far from spotless, making missteps that go emphasized in Preminger's faulty direction, or at least making workmanlike touches that go messily mishandled by Preminger's faulty direction, yet on the whole, Trumbo crafts a fairly sharp screenplay, with a generally impressive and then-relatively advanced level of intelligence, both in a few spots in the dialogue and in much of the characterization and story structure, which may not have a whole lot of notes or subtlety to it, yet has enough steam behind it for you to attach yourself to the characters and story, while recieving quite a bit of help from the performances behind the characters in question, or at least a couple of them. There's not a whole lot in the way of material for most of our performers to work with, or if there is, then the performances go drowned out by the many moments of Preminger's directorial distancing, yet there are still a myriad of memorable character, who owe quite a bit of their memorability to the performers within this respectable ensemble cast, from which a couple of standouts emerge, from a considerably underused yet impressively emotionally-powered Sal Mineo as a Holocaust survivor tortured by traumatic memories and unbearable guilt over what he had to do to get by, to the typically worthwhile Paul Newman, whose Ari Ben Canaan character is surprisingly among the least layered on paper, yet still remains a compellingly firm figure looking to uphold justice by any means necessary, as Newman conveys with charisma and a fair deal of moments in which he dons a certain degree of somber intensity. Still, when you get down to it, one of the most towering saviors that make this film good is simply its story, which is so immensely fascinating and worthy, with dynamicity, weight and scope that presents intriguing themes, all built around compelling happenings. Were this story executed with more care and subtlety, with less conventions and overtones that border on propaganda, it would have made for a pretty strong film, or at least one that's more than just a fair couple of bumps beyond underwhelming, yet at the end of the day, the story does stand strong on its own, and when graced the aforementioned livening supplements, it makes for a film that stands as ultimately rewarding and rather provocative.
To summarize, director Otto Preminger often keeps a kind of workmanlike distance that leaves resonance to take some damage, especially through his failed attempts at compensation through excessive atmsopheric overemphasis on Dalton Trumbo's script, which not only leaves such writing faults as cliches and limited layers over characters and story to glare, but exposes the difference in quality between the writing and direction in a somewhat awkward fashion that exacerbates the distance, and with subtlety going further hurt by striking overtones that haze the film's good intentions and momentum going further slowed down by the film's excessive length, the final product is left not as strong as it should have been and could have, yet still strong nevertheless, going graced by lively entertainment value, complimented by Ernest Gold's fine score and largely spawned from the charm within the ambition of Preminger's direction, which has its inspired occasions in which it especially sparks in its execution of Dalton Trumbo's flawed yet generally well-structured screenplay, whose execution goes complimented by quite a few memorable performances and goes built around an upstanding story, which helps the most in leaving "Exodus" to stand as consistently entertaining, sometimes resonant and ultimately provocative and worthwhile epic, even if it isn't quite what it should be.
3/5 - Good